SSS15. King Khushru / Cosroe I, Nosherwan Ādel (531-579) (Part I)

In the previous post, we had already seen the glimmer of greatness of this Sasanian king who had defeated the heretic Mazdak in discussions and hence proved his claim to the throne, though being the youngest amongst princes.

King Khushru I, better known as Nosherwan Ādel, is one of the most illustrious of the Sasanian kings, who is known for his legendary justice. During his reign Mohammad, the prophet of Islam was born, and many other significant events took place, with which we are connected even today.

His reign of almost half a century can be regarded as the Golden Period of Sasanian history. So read on……..

King Nosherwan on a plate
King Nosherwan on a coin

Though the courtiers and clergy favoured the younger son Khushru as the new king, the Mazdakites supported Kobad’s eldest son Kaus as his successor, as he was favourably inclined towards them. , and even the late king was in his favour. Kaus, who was the Governor of Tabaristan tried to get the throne but was not successful. Khushru had to deal very sternly with his brothers and uncles who were trying to usurp the throne by indulging in court conspiracies and intrigues. Khushru succeeded in overcoming all oppositions and became the king. He was the fourth and youngest son of king Kobad, and yet the wisest and the bravest. It was for these qualities that he was preferred as the heir to the throne by his father as well as the courtiers.

Statue at the Courthouse of Tehran depicting King Nosherwan giving justice

Due to his fairness and justice he was known by his titles Nosherwan “immortal” and Ādel “just.”  He was also referred to as Kisra, which was a modified form of his name Khushru. The Romans referred to him as Cosroes. His reign was one of the best in the annals of Iranian history. In this narrative, we will refer to him as Nosherwan, so as not to confuse him with Khushru II, that is, Khushru Purviz.

Patron of art and learning

Khushru was a lover of art, literature and learning. Incidentally he ruled around the same time as emperor Justinian, another lover of art and philosophy, ruled over Rome. Even then, the Roman referred to Nosherwan as the “true philosopher king”. He was open to accepting ideas from people of any religion or nationality. Nosherwan’s reign of almost fifty years was the most glorious era of Sasanian rule and can be considered an Iranian renaissance in learning, music, arts, architecture and trade.

The king was an avid patron of learning and philosophy. Wise men from India and Rome were welcomed to his court. Works brought by them in Sanskrit, Greek and Syrian on various subjects like medicine, astronomy, music and philosophy were translated into Iranian languages.

The early forms of the games of Chess and Back-gammon were introduced in Iran during his reign. Bastān-nāmeh and Khudā-nāmeh, books of ancient history on which the Shahnameh was based, were also written during his reign.

Whereas in Rome, emperor Justinian closed down the School of Athens in 529, Nosherwan built a renowned library and center of higher learning and medicine in the town of Junde-Shahpur. Other universities too were built at Tabriz, Shiz, Marv, Ctesiphon and Babylon.

On account of advances in medical science the first bimāristān “hospital” was established which had segregated wards according to pathology. Greek pharmacology and Indian medicines too were practiced here.

Administrative changes

Nosherwan is credited to have introduced many administrative changes. One of his first reforms was to take into confidence grass-root level workers, the dehkāns “the small land-owners”, and take their help in organizing the society. They later became the backbone of the Sasanian military and economy.

Another administrative change he introduced soon after assuming the throne, was to discontinue the Satrapy system and instead divide his kingdom into four divisions. The first division covered the area around Khorasan (Central Asia), the second around Qom, Esfahan and Azarbaizan (Caucasus), the third around Pars, Ahvaz and Khazar (Persian Gulf) and the fourth around Iraq and Rome (Mesopotamia).

The king announced to his subjects that he was accessible and available to all at any time. He sternly warned his officers of dire consequences if they harassed any of his subjects. People started feeling safe in his reign and the country started prospering.

When kings of India, China and Rome came to know about the peace and prosperity in Iran, and the might of king Nosherwan, they dreaded him and sent taxes and gifts on time.


The early Sasanian kings used to tax the produce of the farmers either at 33% or 25 %. Nosherwan’s father Kobad had reduced the tax to 10%. Nosherwan abolished the 10% tax and started a new system of taxation which became quite popular.

He levied a very nominal tax based on the area of land tilled by the farmer. Orchards were taxed on the basis of number of trees. The taxes had to be paid in three installments every four months. If the crops failed due to natural reasons, the farmers did not have to pay taxes. Nosherwan also established a separate ministry for taxation.

Farmers who had land but did not have the money to invest in sowing and cultivation, were given loans by the Agriculture Ministry to buy grains for sowing as well as equipment and cattle for tilling.

The king submits to his own justice

Once, king Nosherwan instructed his minister Babak to inspect the army. The following day, Babak ordered the army to gather for inspection, but sent it back after some time. He repeated this on the second and third day too, saying that the assembly was incomplete. Babak repeatedly sent back the army as he expected the king to come for the inspection too, since the king being the commander, was also a part of the army. The king who watched the proceedings, realized the motive behind Babak’s behavior. The following day, he presented himself before the minister in full battle regalia along with the army. Like other soldiers, he submitted himself to tests of agility and reflexes. Then, on Babak’s command he also collected his wages along with the other soldiers.

King Nosherwan submitting for inspection with other soldiers ( Illustration by Mrs. Katy Bagli)

After the inspection was over, Babak came to the king and apologized for treating him like a soldier. The king commended the minister and rewarded him for sticking to his duty.

Conscription of soldiers

Once the minister of wars told the king that he required more money to recruit new soldiers. The king realised that he had no budget for expenses on soldiers, and to get the money he would have to tax his subjects, which he did not want.

He devised an ingenious plan. He asked his ministers, noblemen and subjects to send their sons for free military training so that in times of war they could be of help and they would not feel helpless when attacked by enemies. They would learn to ride a horse and handle weapons. Everybody liked the idea and so Noshirwan had the biggest army, without having to pay the soldiers or tax the subjects.

(End of Part I….to be continued)

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